A number of years ago, I was asked to coach an individual who had pretty much alienated everyone with whom he worked. When I was asked to work with him, I asked why his rehabilitation was so important. His senior leader indicated that he was extremely competent, but that he was interpersonally challenged. I soon found out that his assessment was an understatement.
When we met for the first time, rather than introduce himself, he said, “Well, I guess you are supposed to fix me. Whatever that means. But I challenge you to teach me anything I don’t already know.” Try as I did, our coaching engagement did not last very long. Why? He really wasn’t interested in learning anything about himself or what he could improve. At every turn, I was confronted with an air of superiority and arrogance that I had previously never encountered. When I tried to teach him something that would help him to be more aware of himself and his impact on others, he wasn’t interested. When I tried to teach him a skill that I had developed to increase our understanding of others, he swore that he had learned that before somewhere, although he could not remember where. In short, he assured me that nothing that I was teaching would do any good nor would it help him further his career. He ended up being right about that because he left the organization shortly thereafter.
We all have a “broadcast message.” Our broadcast message is a subtle message that is conveyed by our delivery. This message originates in our minds and is channeled through the various ways that we use to deliver what we would like to say, such as tone, body language, word choices, etc. What makes our broadcast message difficult to discern is that we do not see ourselves the way that we are seen. Consequently we may lack an awareness of how we come across to others.
Here’s an example of polar opposite broadcast messages:
My business coach is someone who walks into the room and you immediately feel energized and inspired by his presence. He is always positive and treats whomever he is speaking to as if they are the most important person in the world. He gives you his full attention, and you return the favor. Conversely, a colleague of mine once told me of a former manager he had who would enter the doorway on a mission to criticize whomever was nearby. Everyone would leave his meetings deflated and defeated. Such broadcast messages are powerful and can be very influential one way or another.
So, how can we tell what our broadcast message is? Outside of finding someone who will be honest and provide us direct feedback, you might try asking yourself the following questions on a regular basis:
What is my tone when I talk to people?
Tone is the music of the mind. So if you are feeling upset or angry, chances are whatever you are telling others will come out in that tone. Sometimes when I am having a tough day, I will tell my staff that they should not interpret the tone of my message as any sort of accusation about them or their behavior. They will usually ask me what is going on with me or if there is anything they can do to support me. This always helps my messaging take a more positive turn.
What messages do my nonverbal behaviors send?
What do you do with your face, your mouth, your eyes or your hands and arms? Do you furrow your brow, offer a glaring stare, and grit your teeth? Perhaps you wave your hands about, point at people or chop the air. All of these behaviors are usually interpreted negatively and can be quite intimidating and demeaning to others. Start to notice what you do with your body as you are speaking to others.
How do others respond to me?
You also want to notice how others are responding to your message. Are they looking at you? Asking questions? Offering comments or other ideas? Or, are their heads down looking at the ground without saying anything? People are a great reflection of the message that you broadcast. If you can notice what others are doing, then a change in your behavior may help you increase the engagement of others. You can accurately assess the positivity of your delivery by the positivity of the audience’s response.
What am I assuming about those to whom I am speaking?
Negative assumptions usually lead to negative feelings, words, and actions. If you can check your assumptions before you start speaking, then you may learn to challenge them for their accuracy before you begin. This is not easy because in the absence of data we usually make it up in the most negative way possible. Particularly when our expectations are violated, it is very easy for us to assume the worst about a person or a situation and then act accordingly. Those actions are part of the broadcast message that you send to others.
What emotions do I display?
Because we like to say that emotion is the mask of meaning, our emotions often hide the meaning behind our message. Your emotions are the cue to what is going on in your head, what you are thinking in that particular moment. If you are angry with someone, then your message may be laced with the emotions that you are experiencing at the moment even if they have nothing to do with the person to whom you are speaking. In this way, your emotions becoming a reality check to assess the quality of your thinking.
What assumptions are hidden behind my feelings?
Every negative emotional reaction is preceded by a thought. Often our emotions become so intense that we miss the thinking behind our feelings. In order to uncover your thinking, try finishing the sentence stem. “I’m (state your feeling) because (finish the sentence)…." Try to finish this sentence stem as many times as you can. It is an interesting exercise for uncovering the thinking that is hidden by our feelings.
What do I project onto others?
We have values that we project onto others. For example, let’s say that you highly value keeping your word. So, when people commit to do something, you have the expectation that they will keep their commitment. When they don’t keep their word, you become angry. In this way, we assign to others the value that is important to us. This difference in values often leads us to adopt an inaccurate or incomplete story about others that influences our behavior when dealing with them from that time on. In this way we create a negative broadcast message that usually has a more negative influence on them than anything we might say.
What kind of energy do I exude?
People have a positive or negative frequency. Some project a positivity that suggests they like people and value them for their contributions and uniqueness. This type of energy is very attractive, so they draw people to them. Others possess a degree of negativity that repulses or pushes people away. Someone who is highly negative may drain the energy from others who leave their presence feeling exhausted by their interaction with them. If you are such an individual, you can change your energetic delivery by training yourself to see the positive and the opportunities available to you rather than focusing on the negative.
What stories do I tell repeatedly?
Negative stories that are frequently repeated possess a hidden positive statement of value, something that was wanted or expected but was not achieved. By recognizing the stories you repeat, you can begin to notice what is important to you and understand the source of a negative broadcast message.
Recognizing our broadcast message is not easy. We often don’t see how we come across to others. Unless someone points out what they don’t like about your delivery, you may have difficulty recognizing how you come across. Hopefully asking yourself these questions and even seeking the feedback of others will help you gain a deeper understanding of the messages that you send. When you understand how others perceive you, then you can take steps to making a change and improving your broadcast message.